Member-based Organizations: Pulled In Too Many Directions?

Scott Snowden
Scott Snowden
Business & Technology Strategy
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When your organization has to answer to a membership, there can be a lot of pressures to deal with. Rarely are those needs aligned. Do these challenges sound familiar to you? 

Strict Focus on Bottom Line 

Even the largest, most well funded Associations and Member-based organizations have to pay particular attention to the bottom line. There is a lot of pressure to show value to the membership. After all it is the members who direct the mandate and expect accountability to that. In fact, it is quite remarkable to see how some organizations are able to stretch their dollars. This attentiveness and a thrifty mindset is healthy, but that culture can also hinder innovative, blue sky thinking. 

Membership Growth vs Value 

More members usually means more revenue and growth. This revenue allows for pursuit of the organization's purpose. But, attracting more members and increasing that revenue means spending money on membership recruitment. 

Much of an organization's budget is likely allocated to delivering programming or communicating policy. This is the work that makes members happy, provides a sense of value and ensures membership renewals. 

The growth vs value cycle can be challenging. Sometimes the simplest solution is to put more focus on how you communicate. This is often a missed opportunity.  Clearly and effectively telling your success stories can serve to attract more members and boost the value of the work you're doing.   

Fragmented Audience 

It's common to have different priorities and different demands for services or policy within your membership. In an effort to try and satisfy everyone, many associations provide a lot of services, but struggle to make them all viable. How often does one key service subsidize others? How often might a member comment that they didn't even know about any other services?  

Audience profiling and prioritization is critical. This level of strategic planning helps keep the organization from being pulled in too many directions. 

Building to Scale 

Organizational momentum can be hard to contain once it gets going. As your organization gains traction and grows it takes a concerted effort to stay organized.  This probably sounds like a good problem to have, but if not managed well it can be your undoing. It can be challenging to continue to operate with the efficiency and agility that helped ignite that energy to begin with. You can mitigate against this by planning for it. Part of that planning effort involves choosing business partners that are ready to work with you in the early days, but also have the capacity to work with you as you grow. 

Built-in Obsolescence 

It's not a terribly common occurrence, but we've seen it happen enough that it's worth mentioning. From time to time member-based organizations suddenly find themselves without any work to do. This happens because the organization has been very focused on serving it's purpose for so long that it doesn't notice when that purpose is no longer relevant. This can happen when the organization actually succeeds with it's original mandate. Perhaps public policy changes in favour of the membership. This can also happen when external factors completely change the market. We've also seen disruptive technology entirely change how the game is played.  

Make sure you are always having annual strategy sessions. If you're diligent about doing that, make sure you are properly capturing your threats - including the threat of succeeding. The threat of a fundamental game change also needs to be considered - it's the most established organizations that most quickly dismiss the possibility of disruption.  

Author: Scott Snowden
Business & Technology, Strategy 



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